Darrin objects that the “Beginning of Birth Pangs” are parallel to the first three seals in the book of Revelation. He writes,
“Many antichrists over a long period of time does not equal the one final antichrist [the rider of the first seal]. Wars, rumors of wars, and empires changing rising and falling is not the same thing as the one final antichrist going forth to conquer. Famine is not the same thing as an economic control over the world’s food supply. Pestilence is not the same thing as death himself riding forth with authority over one fourth of the earth. And what about earthquakes?” (The title of the facebook post is: “And the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.“)
I want to make some comments on this.
Darrin is making a historicist—not a futurist—interpretation on the beginning of birth pangs (“many antichrists over a long period”). I want to leave this question of past, present, or future fulfillment to the side for the moment and focus on the parallel issue.
He misses the parallel concept between both texts. (Darrin believes, as I do, that the Antichrist is symbolized in the first seal, so we do not have to argue for that supposition.) The Antichrist will be the false christ par excellence. Jesus mentions that many false christs will appear. In Darrin’s thinking there cannot be a parallel because “many” does not equal “one,” or something along those lines. However, no one is claiming that for there to be a parallel there needs to be an exact expression or plurality mentioned. It is the concept that is parallel: false christness.
Next he writes, “Wars, rumors of wars, and empires changing rising and falling is not the same thing as the one final antichrist going forth to conquer.” But why not? We are not told. Darrin believes that the first seal will unfold at the midpoint (something he has argued elsewhere in the past). So this supposition may be skewing his objection to the parallel. I believe that the Antichrist begins conquering—during his unrevealed state—at the beginning of the seven-year period as he politically and militarily positions himself for his midpoint revelation and subsequent great tribulation against God’s people. The language in the second seal fits very well with Jesus’ words: “to take peace from the earth, so that people would butcher one another, and he was given a huge sword” (Rev 6:4). Again, the concept of conquering is paralleled. Darrin, I believe, is reading way too much into what he feels “needs” to be there.
Next he writes, “Famine is not the same thing as an economic control over the world’s food supply.” He is not reading the third seal closely. The third seal contains clear characteristics of famine:
“Then when the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living creature saying, “Come!” So I looked, and here came a black horse! The one who rode it had a balance scale in his hand. Then I heard something like a voice from among the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat will cost a day’s pay and three quarts of barley will cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”” (Rev 6:5–6)
Notice again Darrin’s supposition that this must be occurring during Antichrist’s great tribulation after the midpoint; hence his statement “economic control over the world’s food supply.” But the seal does not convey this.
Next he writes, “Pestilence [as recorded Luke’s account] is not the same thing as death himself riding forth with authority over one fourth of the earth. And what about earthquakes?” The problem with his interpretation is that he is too quickly leaping to the fourth seal. Instead, it is best to see the cluster of natural catastrophes of “famine, plagues, and earthquakes” as a unit, not disconnected from each other. And when compared to the third seal, it is famine that is highlighted as the parallel. Again, nothing is required for every element to be included in order to have a consistent parallel. Further, what may cause the famine could be the earthquakes culminated in plagues.
So I think it is more plausible to see the beginning of birth pangs paralleling the first three seals than seeing them unrelated from each other. This sort of comparison is analogous to when we compare similar gospel accounts among Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Just because they may differ in detail and expression in particular events in the life of Jesus does not mean they are not portraying the same event.
The fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh seals continue this consistency of the parallels, as shown in the chart above.
In addition to my exposition, I have written the following in my book Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord:
Before Jesus reveals the sign of his return (vv. 27, 30), he describes a cluster of conditions that must happen first. He cautions the disciples not to be alarmed when these things happen, thinking wrongly that the end of the age is imminent because it will be a time of tumult in the world (politically and naturally), as well as for the church (false messiahs and teachings). To describe this period, Jesus uses the metaphor “beginning birth pangs.” This period will be characterized by hardship; otherwise, his warning not to be misled or alarmed would not be meaningful. The period will not be as intense as the labor pains during the great tribulation, which Jesus says will be an unprecedented time for God’s people. Nevertheless, the beginning of birth pangs will be an intensely challenging time for the church both physically and spiritually.
When will the beginning of birth pangs take place? Preterism believes they have already been fulfilled. In the preterist view, these events took place in the years leading up to A.D. 70. Historicism believes these events are in the process of being fulfilled over time, gradually unfolding over the span of the church age. These two conclusions are unlikely because there are reasons to think this cluster of events will occur in the future in proximity to our Lord’s coming. First, the topic of the coming and the end of the age situates these events in a consummation context. Second, the text suggests that these events will occur in conjunction with each other, not in piecemeal. The thrust of Jesus’ words conveys an intensity of earthquakes, wars, famine, and false messiahs that comports better with the last generation of the church, not the entire church age. Occasional bouts over the span of church history would not compel Jesus to warn, “Make sure you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come.” Third, Jesus’ use of the birthing metaphor is more intelligible when a single generation is in view. The birthing process starts (beginning of birth pangs), followed by labor pains (the great tribulation), and climaxes in delivery (the return of Christ). Thus, the import of the birthing metaphor is devoid of meaning if the beginning of birth pangs is interpreted as reaching back to the first century and covering scores of generations. Finally, verse nine reads, “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.” The Greek word for “then” is tote, which suggests that a single generation of believers will experience both the beginning of birth pangs and the persecution, making it unlikely that the beginning of birth pangs spans the church age.
I want to make a qualification about the spectrum of interpretive certainty. On one side of the spectrum, there are those events about which we can be certain. On the other side are those about which we can be much less certain. Then there are points in-between. I am not interested in trying to make every prophetic event have the same weight of significance or certainty. The inspired biblical writers emphasize what they deemed as important when they give more expositional space to those matters. This is the case, for example, with the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the book of Revelation, as they consistently highlight the Antichrist’s desolation of the temple and subsequent persecution of God’s people during the great tribulation. At the same time, they provide minimal attention to the events preceding the great tribulation, such as—in this case—the beginning of birth pangs. Accordingly, from the prewrath perspective, we want to possess interpretative latitude upon the nature and timing of the beginning of birth pangs but give much more importance and certainty to our conclusions about the Antichrist’s great tribulation, the rapture event, and the day of the Lord’s wrath. To be sure, I do not think that just because some aspect is less clear or significant we should ignore it all together. Instead, we should strive for the most likely interpretation without trying to say more than Scripture will allow us to do.